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tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  December 6, 2016 10:06am-12:07pm EST

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i will now recognize myself for five minutes for opening statement. today we'll be examining data manipulation that occurred within the u.s. geological survey as well as agencies failure to take timely and corrective measures. usgs has been considered by many to be the gold standard of scientific integrity and reliability. that image has now been indelibly stained at best or profoundly shaken by deliberate decades long data manipulation. incredibly this committee has learned that the usgs had shut down the lab from the ig months after it happened. in 2015, the department of the interior scientific integrity review panel investigating this matter included -- concluded that there was a, quote, chronic pattern of scientific misconduct, unquote, at the
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inorganic library in colorado. also concluded that the laboratories chemist, quote, intentionally manipulated data. these shocking findings have not only impugned the integrity of usgs, they have also impugned scientific underpinnings of policy decision that may have taken place as a result of usgs research. i should say we're not talking a few fudge numbers here and there, this involves research and personnel going back to 1996 when the data manipulation was discovered in 2008, new employees were shuffled in and fraud continued tainting thousands of sample results. you may have wondered how no one
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in management noticed the junk science conscious acquiescence and inattentiveness to the center's management. while long-term cost to usgs's reputation may be incalculable, inspector general said 2008 through 2014 represented $108 million. this does not include a prior decade of data manipulation. we're still trying to find out the extent of the projects that were affected and any policy decisions that were executed with falsified data. the reliability of data we have provided as lawmakers across a spectrum of issues is now called in to question.
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usgs is likely going to assure us that we will never -- it will never happen again, that new procedures are in place, manuals have been rewritten, new positions have been created with solution to make us just want to forget all this and get back to blind faith in federal science. however, the discussion with our witness, i want one basic question answered. why? why did this happen with all the briefings held with staff reports and audits written, we still did not know why this occurred. usgs told us it was the lab's lousy air conditioning but then said that was not it. usgs told us the data was changed to account for variable calibrations and then said that wasn't it. finally usgs offered up the excuse that it was plain incompetence. i still don't buy nearly 20 years of fraud, nearly 100
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million flushed down the toilet. this shouldn't be pinned on just one incompetent employee who was remarkably replaced by another incompetent employee. not to mention the fact the most recent fall guy had sterling employee evaluations. primary concern isn't just the mechanics of this fraud, there should be a clear explanation as to why it happened. any proposed solution is meaningless without it. unfortunate coincidence that our first hearing in the newly created subcommittee was on lack of accountability of federal science and the consequences of politically driven side. lives have been destroyed through the actions of federal employees, motivated by entrenched ideologies and use of manipulated data or just garbage science. let this hearing serve as a warning, any federal employee
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who harbors thoughts off es chewing, hold unaccountable and turn a blind eye. goes back to 2006, first discovered 2008. this goes across democrat/republican party lines. this is a matter we need to see why it happened. appreciate indulgence. recognize miss dingell for five minx for opening statement. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you deputy werkheiser for testifying today. united states geological survey or usgs is one of the most esteemed science organizations in the world. the agency earned its reputation through 137 years unparalleled insights from earthquakes to clean drinking water, climate change to fossil fuel reserves. i also know how important their work is because usgs great lakes
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sooibs center, which is in my district has played an important role to adapt spread of asian carp in the great lakes. the effect of asian carp in the great lakes could be enormous, one aspect of the damage, effect on great lakes fisheries. in order to protect $4.5 billion in economic activity in the great lakes fisheries, we must have the best possible science from the best possible scientific institutions. in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a congressional district that hasn't benefit freddie usgs's work, which is why it is so disappointing that you have been dealing with the scientific integrity issue. for 18 years, chemists at a lab in colorado intentionally manipulated some of the data they were hired to produce.
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though none of the data was used to support any state or federal regulations, seven papers were delayed and one had to be retracted. usgs had the chance to correct it when the data manipulation was first uncovered in 2008, but after they cleaned house and hired new analysts and management, the same data manipulation continued unabated until it was discovered again in 2014. the investigations uncovered other disturbing things. the lab was found to be slow. they took seven times as long to analyze their samples as they should have. they were slow to identify manipulation. they were slow to act to correct it and prevent the problem from happening. they were slow to notify the customers. the investigations also found that management was asleep at the wheel. not only did matt fail to catch the problem, one manager looked the other way for a few months.
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making matters worse they presided over and may have facilitated a toxic work environment. offensive language and behavior created an atmosphere that was so intimidating, a scientific integrity investigative body concluded it contributed to the lab's substandard performance. their report indicated that when a female employee tried to blow the whistle on it, management failed to support her. any organization that devalues women in their workplace will not last. the scientific integrity report cited this failure as one of the main reasons it recommended that the lab close permanently. the closure of this lab is a fair outcome. the usgs got a second chance to correct the problem, and they didn't. i believe the usgs should be held to a higher standard and that the lab closure was the right decision. fortunately all signs point to this problem being isolated to
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the inorganic lab. the closest comparison to the inorganic lab at usgs is the organic lab, which is reputable and in demand. your report by the scientific integrity review panel concluded that the organic laboratory section is an extremely productive, well organized, structure laboratory that is conducting important scientific research. of course, the remainder of the agency continues to churn out science that is essential to the nation. at this point there have been two inspector general reports, a number of external audits, a number of internal reviews and a scientific integrity investigation. at this appoint, there have been more investigations than the number of analysts that were in the lab. i would be interested to know what my colleagues and the other side think this hearing will add to the pile. and more specifically, how this new information will help usgs become a stronger agency.
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after all, that's one of the primary functions of oversight, to improve effectiveness of agencies that serve the american people. i hope we can focus today on making sure we can learn from the well documented mistakes, ensure they won't be repeated, and let's focus on building the agency up rather than tearing it down. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. at this time in our committee rules, limited to five minutes. your entire written statement will appear in the hearing record. when you begin the light will turn green, as it is now. when you have one minute remaining, the yellow line comes on. time expired, the red light comes on and i'll ask you to conclude your statement. at this time the chair recognizes mr. werkheiser for his testimony? >> chairman, ranking member dingell and members of the
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committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. i'm bill werkheiser, deputy director of the us geological survey. u.s. geological survey has served the nation for 137 years providing unbiased science for use by decisionmakers covering a wide range of policy issues. our reputation for scientific integrity is central to everything we do. that's why i'm here today to address a serious breach at usgs. this is not a proud day for 5,678 employees. in my years of service at usgs, this is my lowest moment. in 2014, usgs identified a potential incident of scientific misconduct at the inorganic chemistry lab in lakewood, colorado. a scientist had been making improper adjustments from a machine used to measure heavy metals in coal and water samples. all work in the affected section of the laboratory was stopped and an internal investigation was initiated.
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usgs also promptly reported possibility of scientific misconduct to the office of the inspector general. our investigations into the incident confirmed this data manipulation constituted scientific misconduct. this closely resembled a similar incident at the inorganic section that occurred 1996 to 2008. the investigation also identified additional management and personnel problems, including indications of a hostile work environment. i suspect your questions are the same as mine. why didn't we know this sooner, how could it have happened in the first place, how did it go on for so long without being detected. following recommendations of the investigation, the usgs closed the inorganic section of the energy geochemistry laboratory effective march 1st, 2016. all the employees implicated in the scientific integrity incidence are no longer employed by usgs. we posted public notice of this in, contacted customers of the inorganic lab and carefully
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reviewed work products that could have been made use of data from the lab. all failure of scientific integrity is a serious matter. misconduct and mismanagement will not be tolerated at usgs. my job is to ensure a situation like this is never able to occur again. we are undertaking significant steps to enhance data quality assurance and quality control procedures. first, i've asked the national academy of sciences to assess all the bureau's laboratory programs. data quality assurance and quality control procedures. secondly, i established a strategic lab committee to ensure all our laboratory assets are managed to best support science mission of usgs. third, the energy program develops comprehensive management system to replace current procedures. this will include periodic external review and international benchmarking. fourth, we have hired a permanent quality systems manager who reports directly to headquarters to avoid any
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potential conflict of interest as well as two laboratory quality assurance experts who will oversee quality in usgs science centers. taken together, these steps will ensure any future data quality approximate are discovered immediately and dealt with quickly. in our history usgs built strong reputation developing science critical to the nation. for example, our sciences help protect communities in the past of lava flows and prevented catastrophic rupture along alaska pipeline. most recently released an assessment that identified 20 billion barrels of identifiable oil resources in west texas. we do and have done important work in service of this nation, but none of that excuses or explains this incident. i'm committed to upholding long-standing reputation for scientific quality and integrity. we will continue to address the issues which led to the conduct at this usgs lab and will make all changes necessary to prevent it from happening again.
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throughout these instances, we have tried to be accountable and transparent to the committee and public. we have worked with your staff to write briefings, documents and other relevant information as quickly as possible and prioritize delivery of documents to assist in your oversight. to date we have provided 270 documents consisting of more than 4,000 pages responsive to 30 of your specific requests. we anticipate remaining documents as soon as possible. thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. i'm here to answer any questions you might have. >> all right. thank you, mr. werkheiser. >> at this time we do appreciate your testimony, we appreciate you being here. i know it's not the most fun thing to do. we will begin a question and i'll recognize myself for five minutes.
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you've talked about the troubling aspect of this issue. but like i mentioned in opening statement, going back to 1996, that's during the clinton administration. through 2008, that's a bush administration. 2014, that's the obama administration. i've got to tell you, mr. werkheiser, when i first got elected, i can remember going, walking around stephen f. austin university. they have done some great work in conjunction with the u.s. geological society. i looked at this stuff from usgs and my thought going back to high school, wow, usgs, this is really quality stuff. and i got the high grade in science in my high school. i remember seeing usgs, wow. this is really impressive. this is really quality stuff, as we talked about the gold
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standard. it's really heartbreaking to think about all of the great work that's been done to build this phenomenal reputation of u.s. geological society. to come around to the point where we are now, where we've had years of just falsity and fraud, manipulating data. you get rid of one employee. doesn't sound like consequences there. that's really troubling. if somebody is falsifying data, it ought to be a blight on their total reputation and professionalism. coming back to the question i mentioned in my opening statement, so to what end? why the continued falsification and manipulated of data.
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do you have an answer to why? as a lawyer i was taught never ask the question why, but i really, truly want to know. >> i share your concern. i was appalled and devastated when i learned of this incident. like you, when i was in school i learned of usgs through an article, saying usgs is best at what it does in the world. that made me want to become part of usgs. so i was deeply, deeply appalled when i learned building in. while i can't look into the mind of the analyst involved, what i can say, with this instrument, when the raw information comes off of it, it needs to be adjusted to standards to make it run. >> mr. werkheiser, we heard that originally, you have to change it some because of the calibration. it turned out we heard from
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usgs, well, that really doesn't explain falsification we got here. i appreciate that we heard before. that turned out it really wasn't the proper explanation. so let's try again. you have some other explanation. why? >> so the issue is that those adjustments were well outside established standards. while i can't look into the mind of the person -- >> you said that twice now. but the fact is you can ask the scientist why. did you ever ask these people why did you do this? >> yes. they were asked why. their explanation was that they felt those manipulations were justified when, in fact, they were not. we looked to see if there was a pattern of that manipulation. was it consistently high, higher than the value should have been? considerably lower than the value should have been? were they trying to drive an
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agenda to falsify that data. there was no consistent bias in that information. sometimes it was high, sometimes it was low. in fact, the way the samples are submitted, there's no way for them to know what those samples are going to be used for, the project is not identified. so i cannot explain exactly why except from what they tell us. it was an effort in their minds to provide more accurate information, which is absolutely not the case. >> that's total irony. you manipulate data to make it more accurate. that's totally incongruent. what do you believe long-term effects of usgs's reputation in the science field? you've got university students that are now going, what are we supposed to do? this is totally bogus science here? >> this is damaging to our reputation, no doubt about that.
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all i can do is to ensure we rebuild and regain that reputation. the four steps i outlined before bringing in national sciences to evaluate our protocols, help us into the future, the establishment of laboratory committee, look at all our assets, every lab we have, implementation for acute quality management system that we eventually encompass all of our laboratories across usgs will help rebuild that reputation. >> has that been done? >> quality management system is under way. >> my time is expired. i recognize miss dingell for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. deputy director werkheiser, because i so value u.s. goods's work and it does and people that work there, i want to ask you about the workplace environment at the lab. as you know, scientific integrity review panel was appalled to learn there was toxic work environment characterized by, quote, use of
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offensive language and behavior, end quote. it appears to be created at least in part by lab analyst that was flippant and difficult to work with. when a female staff member brought it to the attention of two levels of management, management and human relations and to have failed to adequately address the harassment. she was reportedly one of the several recipients of behavior in the lab. while it's not a case of sexual harassment because it happened to men and women, it's a case of harassment that apparently also went for a very long time without being addressed. in fact, it might not have been discovered at all or paid attention to, even though it was being reported, if not for this particular scientific integrity investigation. i want to know how in the absence of this kind of investigative report in other parts of usgs can we know that such a hostile work environment
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has not taken root elsewhere in the agency? >> thank you for the question. i also was deeply disturbed to learn of the hostile work environment at play here. i was appalled at that environment. so the main question of how can we be assured this doesn't happen elsewhere in the agency was one of great importance to me. i point to two things where i say it's confident it's not a culture in usgs. two things i'll point to, if we look at sexual harassment claims, they are the lowest in the department of interior. we look at our federal viewpoint survey results, we consistently score higher and these results are used to evaluate employee engagement and employee satisfaction. these results of consistently higher than the department and consistently higher than the government overall. however, those are just statistics. even one instance of hostile
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environment or sexual harassment is like one too many. so our job is how do we ensure -- how do we ensure we have a workplace where people feel safe and are comfortable bringing issues forward of this nature and not be afraid of any type of retaliation or retribution. so in doing that, we take it very seriously and we're undertaking a number of things that's happening. first, all the executives in the usgs have attended training on workplace environment, workplace culture. that training will be cascaded through the organization. so every employee has received that training is made aware. the other thing we've done, looking at this case in particular, it's clear that the employee did not feel comfortable coming forward. so we need to have advocates for employees who represent their interest and they can go to
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confidentially and not be concerned about any retribution or any type of stigma attached to coming forward. so we're working with the department of interior to make our employees have access to a person, at least one, maybe several, to ensure confidentiality and advocacy. the other thing i will say is that our director takes this issue very seriously. she has issued several memos and publications with employees on the issue. she has developed a work group to look at -- workplace issues. reaching out to organization such as american geo sooibs institute and measure geophysical institute or union to look at the processes and the lessons learned, best practices from those very large institution and bringing those into usgs. >> let me quickly ask you two questions. i work there and i want to report a harass men.
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how can i do that, be assured my whistleblower will remain confidential to all including my supervisor. how do i know it will be investigated thoroughly and promptly. >> we have worked with office of diversity and equal opportunity. that's where those claims are looked at and investigated. we've had that looked at by eeoc i guess several years ago now. they determined that our systems were not totally adequate, confidentiality and that ability to look and investigate an issue fully without any type of stigma attached to it. so we're revising our policies in our office. we're working with our department to do that. >> thank you, miss dingell. i really do appreciate you're getting into that issue like that. i was reminded in very recent
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years, we actually impeached a couple of judges. one of them was about the workplace environment harassment of the women on his staff, and he should have been thrown out of office for the things he was doing. i'm wondering out loud here, maybe we need to encourage people who work in the federal government, if you've got a hostile workplace environment, maybe we need to know and drag those people up here and over the coals so people can feel if they are tempted to abuse people working for them, particularly women working for them, you'll get a chance to come up here and be totally humiliated in front of the whole world. we'll have to keep that in mind. at this time recognize you for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, mr. america higher,
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for being here tod -- mr. werkheiser, in reviewing facts do you believe the chemist was qualified for the job? >> using the instrument he started on in 2010, i believe it was 2009, yes. new instrumentation in 2012 and evidence is he was not qualified to operate that instrument. >> it appears other employees were aware the chemist didn't have sufficient database experience to do his job. they strid rudimentary, ie, freshman college level. the sirp report team called this incomprehensible, that this chemist in question was hired to work within this facility without possessing quality data processing skills. this man was a 30-year employee of the usgs working with expensive equipment, handling projects with a value in excess
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of 100 million. how did he maintain his employment? >> he he most of his career was working in a different lab doing different things. he was transferred to the inorganic chemistry lab i believe in 2009 or 2010 where he took over those new duties. so it was clearly a management failure and management failure at several levels. we, again, through these procedures and through this quality management system implementation, we intend to make sure that doesn't happen again. or if it does happen, we catch it quickly and take appropriate action. >> so i'm trying to understand, because you -- mr. werkheiser you're one of the best witnesses i've seen in congress. i want to praise you for taking responsibility. you seem to really care about your job, so i'm trying to understand how this happened with somebody that really cares about what they are doing, you have so much pride in the work that you do, how did this happen? have you thought about that?
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>> i've thought about it often, long and hard. the responsibility for ensure that our employees are doing their jobs and accountable to do their jobs resides in all levels of management, supervisor up to the director of the u.s. geological survey. failures along that way are inexcusable. i need to do a better job of holding my supervisor accountable and that will trickle down through the organization. >> i'm concerned by this and think everything should be concerned, as you are. here we have employees of what has already been described as the gold standard of scientific institutions, and they do not have the basic knowledge necessary to enter data into a computer. how do we know this is not happening in other labs in denver or every other federal lab in the country? >> we have a number of labs throughout the country. in fact, one of the labs in denver thank you just mentioned is our national water quality lab.
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whereas the lab in question, organic geochemistry lab processed 535 samples a year, they process about 35,000 to 40,000 samples a year. so it's much larger, employs a much larger staff. the quality controls at that denver lab are stringent. it's a best practice. it's recognized. it's reviewed often by external agencies. there are other labs, most across usgs that have that type of volume and that type of stature, similar quality management systems in place. we have other labs that are research labs. those are staffed by one or two people. they do work for their project. they may be developing methods that don't exist at this time. we would be looking at unique types of constituents. those quality management systems are not asaro bust because they don't exist. but our new effort to implement here, this quality management
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system, will eventually encompass all those labs. >> so can you give us some reason to continue to have research produced by usgs? >> yes. i think, as i said, i'm confident this was an isolated example. we have other quality assurance measures in place. for example, at the project, many of the projects have their own quality assurance procedures in place. they actually caught a number of the issues and did not use that information in there because they have this quality assurance procedures. >> does the energy resources program at lakewood facility have a fully functional quality management system in place? >> not at this time. that's what's being implemented now. >> how is it possible it's taken this long to still not have a quality management system? >> we've had quality management systems. they were not effective as we mentioned in the opening statement. there had been a number of reviews, in particular, in this lab.
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there were -- after the 2008 incident there was internal review by a team outside the lab, an external review in 2012 that had 29 recommendations that were implemented, but it was the responsibility of the local management to implement those recommendations and they were slow to do that. so those previous efforts were not successful. so we need to ensure this future effort is successful. we believe that the robust system we put in place, even though it will take some time to put in place is the right way to go. it's the right way to do it. we've tried other ways that have not been effective. >> like i said, i've really enjoyed you as a witness and i want to believe you. the fact we don't have this system in place is very concerning to all of us. >> thank you. at this time the chair recognizes you for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and mr. werkheiser, thank you for your pretty much raw testimony today. i know this is not the first time this issue has been
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discussed in this committee. the last time there was only a little bit of smoke and we thought there was probably some fire. i think you verified that there was wrongdoing and definitely fire associated with this, figuratively speaking, obviously. i would like to commend the chairman and ranking member. i think this is a sign of the seriousness of this issue that scientific, intellectual integrity is an important thing to everyone. it crosses party lines. it's something that we simply cannot tolerate. if you look at the founding of our greatest educational institutions in this country that even predate the constitution, the motto of harvard means truth. look at yale, transparency and truth. this nation has held that to be paramount for a long time.
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when issues like this happen, it troubles us. personally i've worked as an engineer for over 20 years and i used usgs data. it makes me think that i make professional decision that is i'm accountable for based on flawed data, even though it wasn't this data but it was usgs data. there are thousands and thousands of people across the country that have experienced that. so when we think about what's happened and how to move forward, and why we as members of congress and keepers of the taxpayers' dollar, why should we continue to invest in usgs, i think we need a better answer. i know that this data may not have been used directly in policy, but how much of this data was used by people in industry, people in research. how much of it -- talk about testing coal and heavy metals,
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were there bad decisions made that resulted in somebody doing something in a process that harmed the environment? were their decisions made that prevented someone from using something in a process that caused economic damage? i think we need a better explanation that you go back and find out exactly why this data was manipulated, what the far reaching effects are. there's a proverb that says that if a thief is caught, he should repay it seven times over. and i think usgs needs to do a more in-depth investigation so that we feel comfortable that the problem has been rectified and won't happen again. so are there any efforts under way to go back and trace the knowledge trail to see where this data might have been used?
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even public opinion may have been influenced by articles that were written based on this research, which actually could affect policy decisions. so where are you in the process of actually going back and uncovering the real damage that was done? >> we're continuing to investigate the original information. part of the issue and part of the reason that makes it so bad is that good records -- standard procedures for keeping records were not kept. so the raw data that came off was not necessarily archived. however, we have gone back and we've retrieved a number of -- significant amount of information from other sources. we're evaluating what that manipulation exactly looked like. how severe was it? can we recreate what values have been? we did not have that information when we started this investigation. we have some of that now. we're hoping to go back and learn from that. we were also making an effort to go back and, as you say, take a
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look at stakeholders that may have used products from this lab. most of those were internal. we feel confident that none of the data used from at least this latest incident made it into the public domain. that the projects that used, had those analysis run were able to capture it. it was definitely inefficient and cost money, but they were able to use other means to reach their conclusions, multiple lines of evidence. >> twenty years of research and none of this ever got outside of the usgs? >> i should have been clear. it was the latest incident from 2009 to 2014. we can be evaluate the previous 1996 to 2008, that information doesn't exist. however, we have talked to scientists who used that information, who had projects back in that timeframe, and we're evaluating potential
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impacts from that. the other thing we're doing, we're looking at those 33 projects that used the information from the latest incident and are trying to backtrack that to look at all stakeholders so even if the data did not make it into the public domain, there may have been informal publications with others and we're trying to backtrack that also. >> maybe do research on where the lab was cited back 20 years ago in other research papers and also the amount of time. when do you expect to have that report to us on the effects of manipulated data? >> it will take several months to do that investigation. certainly as soon as what we have, we'll be happy to come and talk to you about it. >> yield back, mr. chairman. >> chair recognizes you for five minutes.
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>> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. werkheiser thaurks for being he -- thank you for being here to answer pressing questions. it's disturbing to all of us, you as well. i'm sure you've communicated that. when you've got decades of falsified manipulated data, we all recognize it's inexcusable, phenomenal to me something like that can take place for so long and either not be checked or be overlooked, whichever the case was. it's inexcusable. then we find as you mentioned, 2008 when a new scientist was brought in, he immediately begins doing the same thing. and earlier, in fact, this year receives a 30-year service award. it sounds like a resume enhancer to come in and be involved in
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data manipulation. but the fact that it was intentional, the fact that it was continuous is very difficult to wrap my mind around. i'm sure others feel the same way. let's go to this second chemist, the new chemist that came in. we already had from 1996 to 2008 a long period of manipulated data. we finally have a new chemist come in and in 2014 discover that chemist as i mentioned earlier and chairman as well, had also been manipulating data. how long did that chemist stay on the payroll after his fraudulent activity was discovered? >> so in october 2014, an order
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was issued and that chemist was involved in trying to recreate the work he had done. personnel actions were started, were initiated. i believe it was -- june 2016 was when the separation took place. >> june 2016 after he received a 30 year length of service award. did he retire and get full benefits? >> i'd be happy -- i can't -- >> please provide that information. i'd be curious to know. two years he still remained on the payroll. what was he doing? >> so trying to recreate the information that was in question. >> trying to recreate the falsified information? >> trying to justify his actions to the investigative bodies, the various bodies that went through that lab.
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>> so we were -- we, taxpayers -- were paying for a guy who manipulated data to justify why he manipulated it. is that what you're telling us? >> to look at exactly the questions you had asked. why did this happen, how did it happen? >> that sounds to me like it could be done through interrogation rather than giving him two years on the payroll. >> our personnel processes are complex. >> so did no one sinterrogate him? >> they certainly questioned him. >> i don't want to use that word, interrogate. did no one try to sit down and get the the facts on the table. >> several times. >> did it take two years of him doing it on his own, being paid? i don't understand this. sounds to me like a brief slap on the wrist and he continues on the payroll until he's ready to retire after he receives an award. >> so the length of service, that's exactly what it says.
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you work for 30 years, and you get recognized for that. i don't think -- >> let's not go on. my time is -- what disciplinary actions do you have against employees who commit data manipulation and fraud? or commit something against supervisors? >> right. there are various penalties, including suspension without pay up to separation from the agency. >> but that obviously didn't occur in this case? >> the action was initiated, yes. >> after two years. >> no, i mean, it was initiated right away, but -- >> what does initiating incur? >> the investigation is complex, it takes time -- >> my question has to do with what discipline action was taken. >> again, i'd be happy to provide that information. >> provide the information. mr. werkheiser, it seems that would be something you would come to this committee hearing prepared to answer.
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>> i cannot answer. >> mr. chairman, i have one further question. okay, thank you, sir. thank you. this subcommittee has repeatedly asked since the september 23rd letter for the performance evaluation, these two chemists who committed the manipulation. to this point, we have still not received those evaluations. when can we expect to receive that? >> that information has left the usgs. it's at the department being reviewed at this time. part of the reason it took so long to produce is that we had to retrieve that information from opm, and when the information came, much of that information was nonresponsive to the specific request, so we went through it and brought out the information, specific information requested that is now at the department being reviewed and will be here as soon as -- >> all due respect, sir, we are the ones that want to review that information and we are the ones who requested it, and we expect it. when will we receive that? >> it is at the department, and
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we, as i'm sure you're aware -- >> can you give me a timeline, general? >> approximately two weeks. >> thank you, sir. and i yield back. thank you for your indulgence, mr. chairman. >> thank you. at this time, mr. radewagen is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for your appearance today, mr. werkheiser. i assume the lab lost a significant amount of credibility when the disclosure was made. what's really amazing and troubling among many details of this case is that the lab went ahead as if nothing occurred, and you doubled down on a $174,000 piece of equipment that no one either knew how to operate, cared enough to operate correctly, or was even interested enough to oversee. how do you justify buying a new
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piece of equipment like a mass spectrometer when no one was willing to verify that it was operated correctly? >> in any situation, any laboratory situation, upgrades to equipment are a common business practice, and we need to stay on the forefront of technology. so, when new equipment comes out, oftentimes, i know in my experience in the water quality laboratory, when those equipmented, the new generation of equipment comes out, they process more samples in a shorter amount of time and are more efficient in the process of that information. plus, they provide information that's more accurate, more reliable. so the purchase of equipment is a standard business practice that occurs throughout our labs. in this case, the critical failure was in not training this individual, not ensuring that this individual had the appropriate training and background to operate the equipment appropriately, and that is a management failure, and that, again, is something
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that we recognize and that we will move forward to correct as part of some of the tasks we're undertaking to improve the quality of our laboratories. >> we have one report stating the lab had an average turnaround time of 224 days to process samples. did the lab have a reputation for long turnaround times to process samples? >> it did, much longer than could be achieved in private laboratories. so, in addition to the scientific misconduct and integrity issues, the decision to close the lab also included those operational issues, such as turnaround time and efficiency and value to the taxpayer. >> so, coupled with knowledge that the lab had a history of inaccuracies and slow turnaround, why was management so complacent, or as the scientific integrity review panel described, characterized
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by conscious acquiescence and inattentiveness? didn't that ultimately let the fraud continue until 2014? >> yes. it clear was a management failure. and as managers and as supervisors, we owe it to the taxpayer and to this country to hold ourselves and our employees accountable. that did not happen in this case. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. >> all right. thank you. we do have a few more questions. for one thing, you heard from the ranking member that the srp reported that a culture of harassment existed at the lab. i mean, that is so incredibly serious. and by the way, we've been going through this hearing all this time, and i don't believe a single name has been mentioned. we are covered by speech and
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debate clause privilege regarding things that are said on the record, but for the record, i would like to have -- who was the person who was manipulating the data beginning back in 1996? we haven't even heard a name. people need to know. >> i would be happy to tell that in private. my advice is because this is being broadcast, because of privacy concerns, i should not -- >> well, that's the whole reason i asked. if somebody has harassed, making an abusive workplace, i want their name out there. they should not be provided protection from having their name mentioned. and with regard to privacy concerns, that's what i'm
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saying, this is -- this is protected. you don't have to worry about lawsuits. but if somebody is abusing female employees, i think it's good to talk about it, like we did in judiciary when we had a judge doing that. i would like for any man that is tempted to do that to realize that some day his name is going to be brought up in a broadcast. >> what i can say is those employees are no longer with the u.s. geological survey. i'd be happy to provide that information to you privately. my advice has been not to provide that publicly because of the public nature of this hearing. >> mr. chairman, i do think that we need to make the point, this is still under active investigation and that the committee probably has a right at the end of the investigation to ask for the finding. so, is that correct, that this
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is still under active investigation? >> yes. >> therefore -- >> that's the case, okay. it's still under active investigation, so the investigation's not concluded. is that right? >> well, not -- the overall investigation is not. those employees are no longer with the u.s. geological survey, but there is still an active component going on. >> an active component to what? >> to learn exactly what happened, what the nature of the issues were, how severe it was. it's not a formal investigation, but we are still investigating the issue. >> mr. chairman, again, so i had had questions about how were they allowed to retire, what were the circumstances, were people held accountable. are we going to ultimately get that report? i shared your concern, too. >> yes -- >> i was told it was still under active investigation. they didn't have that yet. but i think this committee would
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like to see it when you do -- >> right, exactly. >> we can certainly provide that to the committee, yes. >> all right, thank you. well, i would very much like to have that information. and if the investigation has formally concluded, you say there may be some informality in the continuation. well, if it's formally concluded, i would like this committee to have access to that information to know who was creating the problem, and i don't care if they retired or not. there need to be consequences, even if at a minimum it's having your name discussed on the record ads someone who was abusing the employees under your supervision. so, you are agreeing to get us that information -- >> yes. >> -- with regard to the investigation? >> yes. >> okay. and i do want to follow up with a couple more questions.
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did the lab management take the discovery of the second instance of continuous data manipulation seriously? >> yes. when the second incident was discovered, the lab management acted immediately to notify the program, the energy resources program at headquarters. and initiated an internal investigation from our office of science, quality and integrity. that investigation eventually led to notification to the office of inspector general, as self-reported. and the science center management generated all those requests. >> well, the reason i ask is that the sirp noted that the lab's lead physical scientist quality assurance officer asserted, and i'm quoting, that "all activities related to the
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sirp are not necessary" and that the situation has "been blown completely out of proportion." that sounds like it was not taken seriously. >> so, the qaqc person was not in the management chain. they're not a supervisor. the person in the management chain took it very seriously and reported it. >> well, did the laboratory's culture fostered by the u.s. geological survey promote an environment where a person who would feel comfortable coming forward to expose the wrongdoing? >> that is our -- that is our job. that is our job is to create that environment. >> well, i know it's the job. the question is about whether it was done. >> in this case, i don't believe enough was done to create that environment. >> the sirp found that whistle-blowing related to the second incidence of data manipulation created "a feeling
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of mistrust and resentment present at all levels." so, it sounds like there is a lot more work that needs to be done there. >> i would certainly agree. >> all right. >> i yield to the gentleman from arkansas for five minutes. >> thank you, again, mr. chairman. mr. werkheiser, one thing that still troubles me is something in the response in the letter that you sent to chairman gohmert. it says here that "we have been unable to determine either the rationale for the data manipulation or any consistent calculations that the analyst used in performing those data
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manipulations." is that still being investigated, or is that your final say on it? >> so, the analyst in question has been consistent in his responses, that he viewed that he was doing an appropriate adjustment to the data, even though it's clear that it has not. so i don't think any further questioning of that person is going to yield anything different than that. the investigation of was there a pattern, is there a consistent, as to what, how that manipulation happened, the extent to what it was and the reasons for it is still under investigation, since we've been able to identify some of that through notebooks and those type of things. some of that information we're trying to recreate what exactly happened. >> so there is still investigation going on to try to determine the rationale? >> yes. >> okay. the june 2016 department of the interior inspector general report noted that the second
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case of continuous data manipulation at the lakewood facility affected at a minimum projects that received $108 million in funding. however, what remains unclear is the dollar value of the projects that were impacted by the data manipulation that occurred at the lab between '96 and 2008. and we talked about that a little bit earlier, about the records. could you tell the committee what was the aggregate dollar value of the projects that were affected during this earlier 12-year course of data manipulation? >> we've been trying assemble that information. actually, i do not have that information, but i would like to follow up on the $108 million figure. that represents the total funding for those projects that used the lab. the actual value of those samples that were analyzed is much less than that. so, the projects and the results they make, they use many lines of evidence, they use outside labs, they use a number -- it
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represents the entire effort to produce a report or assessment. the value of the impacted from the laboratory is probably a tenth of that. >> do you know how many projects were in the time period? we have the dollar amount, but what was the number of projects affected? >> in the second incident, it is 22 projects. we actually do not -- we do not have the information for that first incident. >> you don't even know how many projects there were? >> not for the first one. those records just don't exist back that far. we have partial records, but dating back to '96. that was prior to an automated laboratory information management system. that was put in place in 2010. >> do you -- hopefully, you can understand the heartburn that it creates. >> i do. >> that there is a federally funded research lab with no data
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or no backup. >> i do understand that on the financial side. we will try to recreate as much of that as we can. >> even on the research side. >> well, certainly on the research side i think we can -- we know that the -- do we know how many projects? okay. we do not know. >> and no way to find out? >> i will go back and -- >> i had a follow-up question about did any of the data derive from the lab during this period affect any federal legislation or regulation, federal or state. if you don't even know what projects were done, obviously, there is no way to determine if the research affected any state or federal regulations. >> i cannot address that with any certainty. that's true. >> i guess with that, mr. chairman, i'm at a loss for words.
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>> ms. hice, do you have any further questions? all right, i would like to thank the witness, mr. werkheiser for being here, and appreciate the participation of the members and the ranking member. obviously, this is a reminder why we must be vigilant and make every effort to hold executive branch accountable to the taxpayers. i hope this revelation of mass data manipulation is limited in scope, it's only through careful examination we can learn and move through and move forward with confidence. and you know, it's normally an assurance to the public that we have this republican, small "r," form of government, where we have representatives. and if one party or one administration is manipulating
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or providing an abusive work environment, then it's always been a bit of a comfort, well, that changes, and the next one coming in will surely correct that. we have seen just an outrageous example of how none of those safeguards worked. none of the checks and balances worked. and then we have someone whose name i want to say on the record when we get the information, but you've got people creating a hostile work environment, you've got people totally manipulating data, fraudulent activity. a person involved in it is replaced to bring an end only to see that continue on? it just is staggering. and as we said at the beginning, and i think the ranking member and i, i mean, we have always thought of the u.s. geological
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survey as just the gold standard. and now i'm not even sure it merits a mercury standard. i mean, it's changing and moving and doesn't seem to have much of a form. it's like a terrible joke about what would you like the answer to be. i mean, anyway, as much as i'd like to dismiss this issue, we just cannot. as the facts come out, it seems to just open more and more questions. how did this go on over the span of three decades with the procedures, policy and management over the course of 18 years? how does this happen? i know the u.s. geological survey wants to put this behind them, but as a committee, we cannot close the books on this when the administration witness shows up with a two-sentence explanation. this was a chance to get the
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record straight. now we've been assured we'll get -- you will get us additional information when the investigation is concluded, but i would suggest to you that we're still waiting for documents that we requested three months ago. some of the documents we did receive were redacted, they were duplicates, or even blank pages. this document i'm holding up here -- "record of ic-2000-2001." that's page 1, cover sheet. page 2, it's blank. but page 3, it's blank. page 44. and it's a comfort, because this says -- this page, like all these pages, it's only for our committee use. it's a blank piece of paper. page 5.
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this is only for committee use. it's a blank piece of paper. i don't know what you were expecting this committee, whether it's this side of the aisle or that side of the aisle, what's a committee supposed to do? are we supposed to play tic-tac-toe on this? for committee use only, page 6, 7, blank pieces of paper. oh, we have little bit on page 8. again, a blank piece of paper on page 9. 10, we at least have a few things on that. 11, another blank piece of paper. this is extraordinary. i mean, it's unbelievable. the federal government, regardless of administration, the federal government is being reduced to a joke, except it is so deadly serious.
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so, the gold standard, it's not even a good toilet paper standard. so, when you submit the additional information, please give us something besides blank pieces of paper, because otherwise, at the hearing where we get into the names of people who have dishonored the government, dishonored themselves, dishonored those who worked under them, we don't want to have to bring up your name as one of those that has dishonored the committee. you've been very gracious to come up here and to try to deal with this issue. what we hope is as this administration comes to a close, the integrity and transparency will be restored. the department of interior will abandoned entrenched ideologies that have been going on over three decades. and finally hold wrongdoers
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accountable. because one way or another, this committee is going to hold wrongdoers accountable, and we want to make sure that your name is not one of those who is helping cover for people who have done wrong over the years. will you bear with me just one mome moment? with that, let me also mention the ranking member dingell, other members on the committee may have some additional questions for the witness. and under our rules, if any member has additional questions, you will be required to respond to those. and we're not talking about blank pieces of paper with a stamp on it, it's for committee's use only. under committee rule 4h, the hearing record will be held open for ten business days to provide
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those responses after such questions, if any, are asked. if there is no further business, then at this time, the committee stands adjourned.
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c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. six weeks from taking office, donald trump says he wants the government to cancel its order for a new presidential airplane. he tweeted this morning, "boeing is building a brand-new 747 air force one for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. cancel order!" he was asked about the tweet when he stopped by cameras in trump tower this morning.
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>> good morning. how are you? good morning. how are you? everything fine? we've got some great people coming in today. you'll see them. >> mr. trump, what are you going to talk about with mayor bowser from washington, d.c., today? >> well, we're going to talk about a lot of things to a lot of people. we have a lot of people coming up, great group of people. doing very well. thank you all very much. >> sir, you tweeted this morning about canceling the contract for the new air force one. is that something you're serious about trying to do? >> well, the plane is totally out of control. it's going to be over $4 billion. it's for air force one program. and i think it's ridiculous. i think boeing is doing a little bit of a number. we want boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money. okay, thank you.
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mr. speaker, i just got a call from a reporter about a tweet which the president-elect has made canceling the contract with the boeing company and the federal government to build air force one. now, the last time i looked, i think that the president of the united states is still barack obama. he will be president of this country until the 20th of january. what we have right now is a president-elect running around the world with his tweet bar making statements that are
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disruptive and distractive for the american public. he calls taiwan and raises questions about our relationship with china as though he were the secretary of state! but he has not even found anyone to do that job. he should be in the transition office figuring out how he makes a smooth transition of the american government from the efficiently run government of mr. obama to his administration, not making the decisions himself and going out and announcing them through his tweet at 3:00 in the morning because he can't sleep. this kind of operation is the operation of somebody who's attitudes running a big business. when he's president of trump casino or trump towers, he can act like that. he can come in and say, do this,
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do that, do this, do that! i don't know if he understands, mr. speaker, that you and the house of representatives are the ones who made the contract and appropriated the money for that plane. that's the process. that's the democratic process of this country. it's not done by the president getting up in the morning and tweeting out 147 characters and ending a contract with hundreds of jobs at risk of people in my district, good, hard-working americans. he'll go down to indianapolis, indiana, and walk around and say, i saved 1,000 jobs. we still haven't seen the contract. we don't know what the deal is, how long the jobs have to last, how many of them have to last. we don't know anything. we just know that a tweet went out that "we have --" and then
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he went and did a rally down there, did a victory lap, but there is no piece of paper. the people in indianapolis, if i were to make a recommendation to them, mr. speaker, would be talk to the indians, to the native americans, about the treaties that have been made with the united states of america and how good they are and how hard you have to fight to make those treaties work. he made a treaty with carrier. we'll get $7 million from india indiana, my assistant, mr. vice president, mr. pence. he will get $7 million from indiana to carrier, and then maybe there will be some kind of -- i don't -- no one knows what's going on, but the president-elect should spend his time in the transition office
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deciding who is going to hold the jobs that will make this country run. this is not going to be run by one man in the white house making pronouncements and thinking that all the world is going to throw themselves down on the ground and worship him. we have a democratic process, and the burden on the house of representatives as i leave it -- i mean, i'm -- in some ways, i'm sorry to be leaving, because i think it's going to be a very tough session. in helping the new president understand how a democracy actually works. it's not a big business. it is a business of the people, the 435 members of this house take the money that comes in in taxes and they appropriate them out as they see fit for the country.
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the president doesn't do that. when the congress is done, they pass the bill to him and then he spends the money as the congress has decided it should be spent. if you look at the constitution -- now, perhaps, i'm sure the vice president -- or the new president-elect has looked at the constitution -- the first article is the congre congress. we are the pre-eminent body in this government because we are elected by the people. >> the gentleman's time has expired. >> and we have the power. stop tweeting, mr. president-elect. the federal government has contracted with boeing to build two or more new planes, which would go into service around the year 2024, and that means that mr. trump wouldn't fly on the new planes unless he won a second term. the contract for the planes was to be about $2 billion, but costs have been reported to be rising. as for a comment, a boeing spokesman said "we're going to
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have to get back to you after we figure out what's going on." in the meantime, boeing's stocks have been sinking since the president-elect's tweet this morning. and we'll be live again at 2:30 eastern here on c-span 3 when the senate foreign relations committee holds a hearing to consider terror threats in the middle east and around the world. they'll be looking into iran's potential influence over certain terror groups. again, live coverage starts at 2:30 eastern here on c-span3. the u.s. capitol christmas tree lighting ceremony takes place this afternoon at 5:00 eastern. house speaker paul ryan will lead off as a number of congressional leaders will be speaking at the lighting, and we'll have live coverage of that starting at 5:00 eastern. and then at 6:00, the cato institute hosts a discussion about the future of freedom of speech and freedom of the press in politics. we'll have live coverage of that on c-span3. that starts at 6:00 p.m. often when you look at a
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project, you look afterwards to see whether you've achieved your objectives and at what costs. and so, i wanted to see through this last half century of military interventions, partisan politics aside, morality aside, what happens after the party's over? what are the after effects of war and what are the human and financial costs on both sides. >> sunday night on "q&a," media entrepreneur and travel writer brian gruber discusses his book "war: the after party: a global walkabout of a half century of military interventions," which chronicles his travels through countries involved in u.s. conflicts. >> i went to all these places. and of course, we all come with some sort of bias, but i went to all these places with an open mind, again, trying not so much to understand what a partisan point of view might be or be validated but to look at was the mission accomplished and what were the costs on both ends of
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the gun barrel. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's "q&a." white house reporters and journalism experts are trying to figure out how the trump administration is going to handle the press. they talked yesterday about potential lack of press access and transparency issues with the new administration. the national press foundation hosted this event. it's about an hour, ten minutes. >> so, let's get going on the third panel of the afternoon. this one has gone from now until 4:30. again, i'm going to introduce our three guests. we're talking about press relations between the incoming administration and the press corps and what things will look like, what we suspect things will look like. each of the three guests will give a kind of brief,
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five-minute or less overview of what the main issues they see coming are. i have some questions. i think we'll have plenty of questions from the audience. our three panelists are lucy del glish, dean at the college of journalism at university of maryland. we are in university of maryland space right here. before coming to maryland a couple years ago, she was a couple decades at reporters committee for the freedom of the press and she was -- okay, previously at -- but before that, also a reporter and editor at the "st. paul pioneer press." jeff mason on the far end is white house correspondent for reuters and currently president of the white house correspondents so, who's going to talk about the role of the correspondents association and its interactions with the incoming administration. and kevin goldberg, an attorney at fletcher, heel, hildreth. but most importantly, he is the
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president of the -- chairman of the board, i'm sorry, chairman of the board of the national press kounsion. so, welcome to all three of you. so, i thought we'd get started with jeff. jeff, if you could maybe just give a sense of where things stand between the correspondents association and the administration, incoming administration. >> sure. so, the correspondents association started having communications both with the trump and the clinton campaign as early as last spring where we just wanted to get the relationship started and explain what our expectations were in terms of a press pool. neither hillary clinton nor donald trump had a full protective pool as a candidate. and a protective pool, for those of you who aren't completely familiar with that, is a group of journalists, 13 journalists, including wires, print, tv, photography, still photographers and radio, who follow the
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president or a candidate or the president-elect, wherever he or she goes, and that includes being in the motorcade, that includes being on the plane for travel. so, as you no doubt know, after president-elect trump was elected, he did not have a pool in place because they did not have one in place during his candidacy, which was a problem then that just got amplified after his election. we have in the last few weeks made some progress on getting that pool structure solidified. he came to washington without a pool. he got some pretty bad press for that. and the correspondents association weighed in on that. i weighed in on that on behalf of the correspondents association. we also weighed in when he went out for dinner in new york a couple weeks ago without bringing a press pool. and i think they learned from that. i think they learned from the
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negative attention. and i think they also just learned from, as no doubt you just learn when you're putting together an administration from scratch about what some of the aspects are that are poerimport. so, we have been in touch with them and are in talks with them to do that. the pool is not going to be fully formed or protective until they get to the white house because they refuse to allow journalists on his plane, which we object to and we've made those objections cleerks but they have made clear back to us that that's not going to change. so once he's here, then there will be the traditional structure of the pool flying on air force one, and that's not something that i'm even putting up as a question mark, because we just assume that that will be respected. and they have told us that they do intend to respect the traditions of the white house
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pool when they come, and we right now are taking them at their word for that as well. i have been using the words cautious optimism. obviously, there were lots of things that happened during the course of the trump campaign that should give reporters and media organizations cause for concern. we haven't had a chance to address all of those with the incoming administration. we're sort of having a prioritized list of what's important to us. and the pool has been at the top of that list. so once we get that core piece of white house press corps business locked in, i think we'll be able to address some of the other issues as well. i do think that it's going to be a challenge. there's no question about that. and i think that there are a lot of unanswered questions, which we can certainly explore a little bit today. but a lot of what we have waiting for us are unknowns.
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but i am not one of the -- di d not belong to the doomsday camp, despite some of the rhetoric that even people like respected former white house press secretaries are throwing out into the dialogue. i don't think it's in the interests of an incoming administration to declare war completely on the press or to blow up the press room or blow up the white house press corps. if they do, the correspondents association will be ready. and i can assure you that we are preparing for worst-case and best-case scenarios. but at this point, i -- so far, the people who we're working with on the trump side have been working with us in good faith, and we want to maintain and develop that relationship going forward. >> so, lucy, outside of, like,
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the day-to-day coverage of the white house, i mean, the issues of transparency and access go far beyond that, including freedom of information act and so forth. can you tell me what you see as the issues coming in with a new administration? >> sure. first of all, thank you for inviting me, and welcome to the college of journalism's downtown bureau. i hope you had a chance to look around. you're very, very welcome, we're thrilled that you're here. i thought i'd talk about two things, one that i'm really anxious about and one that i've got kind of a, oh, thank god, attitude toward. when you're a reporter or dealing with media access involving the feds, other than following the president around in the white house and covering all of that, when you deal with
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the agencies and when you deal with criminal justice matters and everything, jeff sessions. be afraid. be very afraid. kevin and i have both watched him for a very long time, and my eyes popped out of my head when i saw that he is up for attorney general. his record as far as transparency goes is terrible. his attitude toward the media is irrationally bad. he's nasty. and he, for example, went out of his way, i guess it was six years ago, to really try to shred efforts to pass a federal shield law, which the obama administration and eric holder actually on record supporting. but he was on the senate
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judiciary committee. and watching him in those judiciary committee meetings and watching the way he would just get angry when there was an issue involving the media was really a wonder to behold. the other issue that came up, when we were trying get amendments to the federal foia last year, he actually put a hold on it, what, once? >> those are the ones we know of. >> those are the ones -- yeah. and foia, which is actually the bright spot i wanted to mention to you. federal foia. we were able, with the help of a lot of your employees and your colleagues and non-profits and other good government folks, we were able to get some amendments to it. and try to follow along with me as i explain this. since 1970, the attorney
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general, whoever the incoming attorney general is when there is a change in presidents or parti parties, they send out a memo interpreting the freedom of information act, saying, when you have the opportunity to make a discretionary release, i want you to consider these things when you release it. so, for example, when bill clinton took office, janet reno sent out a memo that said, if you have the opportunity to make a discretionary release, release it unless you can see that there is a foreseeable harm. george bush and john ashcroft came in, and they flipped it. and they basically said, if you can come up with a reason, particularly of privacy or national security reason to withhold something under a discretionary release, withhold it. obama came in, and on day one of his presidency said, went back
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essentially to the clinton standard. so, all of the agencies are required -- were required -- to abide by this attorney general guideline on how to follow the federal freedom of information act. and the career people would kind of go back and forth like a yo-yo. well, legislation -- bipartisan legislation was introduced over the last several years, and finally passed and signed by the president in the spring that makes that obama/holder discretionary release standard, the foreseeable harm one, law. so that ashcroft cannot come in and just say, no, we're flipping it. that sounds like it's really, really deep in the weeds and kind of difficult to follow and more than a little bit wonky.
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but it's really, really important. and there were some other improvements made to foia at the time, for example, the office of government information services in the national archives has a little bit more power and some other things we can talk about, if you'd like to. but there also was an eric holder memo. the obama administration, remember, wasn't all that great when it came to dealing with media issues. and obama went after more journalists and more so-called whistleblowers than any president in history and sucked journalists in with these folks that they were charging with espionage. but in the summer of 2015, after the media really, really went crazy over these orders for phone records from the "ap" and
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calling james rosen from fox, i think it was, alleging he was a co-conspirator so they could get a warrant around the privacy protection act. so the media pushed back and holder came back with a memo that's been tinkered with. just leave it, kevin. that's fine. they tinkered with the memo a couple of times, but what we've got from holder is essentially a guideline that says we're not going to do that anymore. and we're not going to go after the media for doing their job. again, a really, really important, there's been a lot written about it. but what you need to understand is that's a guideline, that's not a statute. and jeff sessions could come in on day one and revoke the whole thing. and a lot of people have spent a lot of time working on this thing. it will just go out the window.
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and i will not be shocked at all if that is exactly what he did. >> thank you. so, kevin, give me a sense -- we were talking ahead of time -- what is your biggest worry or fear going into this administration? >> all of this. no, you know, it's funny, because right where lucy was ending, i'm thinking, you know, our job as attorneys is largely to think of the worst-case scenario that could happen and maybe work back from there, right? and i love your optimism, jeff. i have some fears, because i've seen a lot of things. and let's be clear, a lot of these fears are actually beca e because -- you did say something else that was really relevant that i 100% agree with -- there are certain precedents in place and a lot of those are actually kind of negative, too, that were started in this administration, the current administration, and will be allowed to -- will be
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built upon a fear by the next administration. so, i've done a lot of discussion with attorneys for media groups and trade associations and just sort of so you understand my background a little bit, i don't just spend full time running the affairs of the national press foundation. we have an unbelievable staff that does that. i'm a volunteer board member who happens to be the chairman of the board. in my day life, i'm a media attorney and represent the academy of news editors and the association of alternative news media, so we do a lot of policy work, including on the foia bill and including working with the white house correspondents so, three years ago on a letter that complained, basically, to president obama, about the lack of access that reporters and photographers were getting to white house events, right? and that is a precedent that i think is something the incoming president is really going to want to take advantage of. restricting access, controlling
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the flow of information. and though it wasn't as, i think, apparent in the current administration, one way he's going to take that is that i fear that access will become much more, i'm not going to say pay-to-play, but much more preferential. it will become access journalism a little more than accountability journalism. and the problem in all these areas is that you don't have a lot of good law to push back with. so, that is my big fear, is that there's not a lot of legal precedent when the president says we're going to have a meeting with the japanese prime minister, and what you'll get is the handout photo that we want you to see, but you won't see anything other than when we let you in the room and when you have that handout photo. and worse yet, we're going to perhaps control who can be in the room because there are only so many people we can fit in there. and who's going to get that? maybe it's breitbart, not the "washington post." it remains to be seen. but all of these actually have
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precedents that are very difficult to push back on in a legal sense, because lucy remembers when this happened at the state level here in maryland, and maybe folks who were working for cns or others remember when a reporter and columnist from "the baltimore sun" were officially told you will not be let into any event we do not have to let you into. and we will not answer your phone calls. we will answer your foia request because the law mandates it, but we will not get you anything else. and they went to court and they lost, okay? and that is the precedent that is recent regarding coverage of an executive official, and that should scare people, okay? and why should it scare people? because what you end up with -- and i know people don't want to go to this place, but i'll go there. you end up with propaganda. you really, honestly, do. you end up with a photo being given out that is what they want you to see. and i could -- if someone wants to ask the question later, i could get you from kanye to
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trump in one move on that. so, i'm worried about access and i'm worried about retaliation and black-balling. on the legal side where you do have some precedent, and maybe you do have some ground to push back -- foia would be number one. there is obviously a great body of foia law and first amendment law that we can use in other areas. as my mentor and former boss and lucy knows him, once said -- dick schmidt -- said the greatest thing this country ever produced was not necessarily the first mend but an independent judiciary to uphold the first amendment. and i think we're going to put our reliance in courts. now, my fear there, of course, as you may know, media organizations don't have the money or the time to pursue foia cases in court like we used to. so, there we have the law is there, but we may not have the ability to press that law. and that's just foia law. you did mention leaks investigations. you did mention the possible prosecution of journalists as
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co-conspirators. the other thing i'm very worried about was an early statement by the president, or the president-elect, sorry, that he might consider nondisclosure agreements for all government employees, which has been standard within intelligence agencies but not the defense? i'm sorry, intelligence and defense agencies but not others. and of course, that cuts off the new flow of information to you as reporters and then to the public. and i think that would be an unbelievable way to control physician information, if you want to. i'm not sure it's something we should be happy about. we had talked about things like the antislap law, federal antislap law. if you're not familiar, that's a way to get frivolous lawsuits kicked out of court, you know. and, i don't know, does this president-elect like frivolous libel lawsuits? there's ample evidence to say maybe he does or that his friends do or that millionaires who want to bank roll a tax on publications like gawker would be more emboldened to do so.
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and that brings me to my last point, which is, what really bothers me is the cultural change we may see. things that in prior years were completely off limits. and again, i put my hope and faith that you are right in that they will respect the presidential pool. i put my hope and my faith in the fact that the first amendment will stand up to all of this. but what i think you're going to start to see is sort of a culture shift where it's okay to go after -- we're seeing it already -- where it's okay to go after the media, where it's okay to disregard what they say, where it's okay to sue them, where it's embraced to sue them, where it's embraced to physically threaten them. this all becomes normal -- again, the word we've heard so much is normalized. and that's what i fear most, is that we have a massive culture change. i've heard from people about various things that have happened in government over the past eight years. and i'm not going to say this
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administration has been great. i mean, they came in -- the current one -- they came in with this unbelievable, you know, statement -- we will be the most transparent administration in history. and i've always said, if they had one thing wished they could take back, i think that line would be in the top ten. i think it was an unattainable goal to meet and they wish many a time they had never said it. but there are a lot things to be done that i fear for. efforts to harness technology put out to the public in a proactive manner. you look at the 18-f office in gsa which is a technology think toonk do a lot of great things. that was a real positive. and i'm not saying -- i don't know if it's going well, i don't know if it's staying. you mentioned the office of government information service which is an independent overseer of foia and a counterbalance to the justice department. what will their future independence be?
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what is the future of the open government partnership which created a metric for our participation and our ability to lead on the world stage as a country committed to transparency. all of these things were great and i don't know if you'll see extensions of them or improvements on them or other ideas that are similar and what i've heard about all those things that makes me worry for them. i'm not saying they're going away, i have every belief they'll still be in existence and i want them to be because they have created a culture within government that i know people can't quantify, can't see but people have told me matters throughout agencies and that's really something that i think you will see -- i fear you'll see a flip on. >> you said the 18-f office in gsa, what's that? >> the general service administration is located at
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18th and f streets so they basically build really cool stuff for the government to harness technology and put information out. i think it's cool what they do there. that investment in technology is something i would like to see continue. you talked about jeff sessions. when someone asked me what the new president would mean for foia i said i don't know if he cares. but when i saw that his attorney general -- who his attorney general pick was, i got really scared. >> a little bit more about the foia reform legislation. you talked about it a little bit. how did that get through congress? a press-friendly piece of legislation got through congress? >> there are quite a few members on both sides of the aisle, foia
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truly is a bipartisan effort when it gets right down to it. charles grassley is a big proponent of transparency. he uses those transparency laws himself. when he's chairing a committee he can push those things. darrell issa, big supporter. their motivation was to the get information about obama out to the public so they wanted transparency about what the democrats were doing. so it's -- there was bipartisan support to get it done and they did a few other things as part of it and kevin was integrally involved in it. i talked about the presumption
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of disclosure and strengthening the ombudsman office. hopefully they will be creating a portal. you can also argue that this is -- would be the full implementation of the foia amendments of 1996 if they were to pull this off but they are going to be allowing requesters to ask for a document in one central place so you don't have to be an expert on foia and sit down and go "oh, my god, who would have that record?" it should be a lot more friendly and it's also got some new reporting requirements for the agencies and what they have to report on what their activities have been every year. probably the most comfontrovers part of the amendments will be -- they're keeping a log.
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they're supposed to be now taking the most frequently requested foia requests and once they've fulfilled them they will be making them -- supposed to sort of sequester them and make them available to other people so the next time somebody asks for that stuff you don't to reinvent the wheel. but the other thing they're going to identify who the requesters are. so the question will be are we going to come up with a little bit of a delay so reporters can get their stories done? because there has been some reporter pushback on that i think anybody who has the time to go and scan all the records to find out who's been requesting what, that's -- i think on balance this is a good thing to reveal this information. >> this is something called the release to one is a release to all project, if you want to look it up. >> so if i as a reporter put in the foia, the foia is fulfilled, that is automatically posted in
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an electronic -- >> theoretically. it would be available through this portal and anybody else who came later could start there without having to file a request for the same information and save everybody some time but, of course, if you're a reporter your worry is you'll get scooped -- by yourself. >> so the identity of the requester and the information is supposed to be posted. >> and things that have happened within the last eight years are good. >> is this law fully into effect? >> well, it's signed by the president and we know from other times that foia has been amended. it takes time. but, yeah, to unwind this you would have to go back and get congress to change the law. >> i know that this makes foia look more robust. will it practically have the
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impact of making them fulfill our requests faster? >> no. [ laughter ] >> i'll go with no. >> no. unless you're asking for something somebody else has already asked for. the last time we amended foia there were some things done to really hopefully improve that process but when it comes to just the sheer volume of what some of these agencies have to respond to and the cost of it, no. you know, federal foia as morphed into this gigantic being and it's really difficult to wrestle it to the ground so i do not anticipate that what used to take you three years to get will only take six months. i think you're probably still looking at three years. >> i know we've got a bunch of questions here so i'll turn the mike over. we'll start with kate and then you next.
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>> so you've seen this thing from trump of using social media, youtube, those things, to talk directly to people in ways that other presidents haven't personally right now i haven't seen it as harmful. i think you still have a lot of news from from the press with that but do you think he's going to try to use that to bypass what he needs the press for? >> yes. i think that that is -- that was a trend that is -- started before donald trump and he is using it particularly effectively and using it a lot. i think that this -- the obama white house also made use of social media as a way to bypass the traditional press. but they didn't cut out the press in terms of not doing any press conferences and not meet some of our other access needs so i think that the media has to
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adapt a little bit to social media and i think we have. but that's going to happen more with the incoming president for sure. i do think that if that pendulum swings all the way towards a trump administration or a president trump only using twitter or social media and completely bypassing the press consistently then we as news organizations and members of the white house correspondents' association in particular will have to have a discussion about our strategy for that. because right now we are all reporting every single tweet. and right now i think we have a responsibility to do that because that is how the president-elect is communicating and we don't have -- that's the avenue that he's communicating with. if we don't get progress in our push for access to him and members of his administration
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and other parts of his new white house then we'll have to have a strategy for how to deal with that. >> so part of how he's been successful at making the media his war and discrediting everything they said, regardless of what it was if he didn't like it. so people like marty baron are saying all we can do is do our jobs but how else do we fight against that kind of thing? >> fight against? >> against him discrediting everything we say whether or not he has a basis for it. clearly his supporters -- it resonated with them even though he had no evidence to support everything "new york times" or "washington post" was saying was bogus. >> i wish i had an easy answer to that question. i think at least part of the answer to that question is reporters have a responsibility to tell accurate stories and to put in accurate and full context and i think you're seeing that at least from many publications. the day that the president-elect
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talked about millions of fraudlent voters having taken part in the election. most -- many headlines said "cites millions without evidence." that is important and critical and factual context. and i think journalists have a responsibility to do that. our -- the onus will be on us to continue doing that if that style of rhetoric continues when he's in the white house. >> i have an interesting -- well, i think interesting thought on that which is gleaned from -- in prepping for this and another meeting i was having to discuss all of these issues with other media attorneys i read a lot of articles on coverage of the campaign and some were related to legal and some were related to how do you push back and one line in one of these articles, i can't even remember said visuals will be more important than anything else. and i'm thinking to myself, that goes back to the access question again. what was the one thing during
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the campaign that literally tripped him upmost? >> the video. >> the video. his own words. and so i think that's why the access matters. you can't stop him from tweeting. nobody wants to stop him from tweeting. that would be in itself its own first amendment violation to say you absolutely cannot tweet. but what i think has to happen -- what's going to obviously get more groundswell for the media being right and facts over narrative will be source documents. again, foia helps a lot. source documents, source video, not he said/she said back and forth as strong as the coverage is. it's putting everything out there in front of everybody and that's where controlling the access and the video and photos and things will be difficult to overcome. >> you mentioned photos and talked about the issue of the abe meeting and handouts.
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we had an issue with that with this white house where the obama white house was relying too much on putting out official photos instead of allowing the pool in or in particular still photographers in. and we were successfully -- got that practice to change and the way you do that is through having some unity within the press corps and a decision not to use the handout photos. we tried that with the abe photo from the trump meeting and it worked partially. the washington press corps and white house press corps was respectful of that decision not to use it. but we didn't do i think a good enough job of getting that message across to our colleagues in japan because the press there is more accustomed to using those photos and once it goetzs out it's out so everyone can use
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it. but i guess the way i would wrap up that issue is the media and our news organizations, we do have some power there. and our power is in if we stay unified, saying no, we won't use those handout photos or -- and this has happened with the obama administration, too. if the white house says "we'll let in just a few people from the pool," if the whole pool says "then we're not going in. we don't accept that if our colleagues from print can't go in or we don't accept it if we don't have a camera person," then that unity is very powerful. that's one of my goals this year and was a goal we set in july before knowing who had won the election that press corps unity and push for access could be two key criteria for the following year. >> so we'll go here and then
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dan. >> joyce from med page today. kevin talked about obama saying they wanted to be very transparent and how they may have come to regret those words. as a health care reporter, we have found access to the federal agencies especially hhs really tightening and them insisting more and more that if you're going to interview somebody you have to have a minder there and our organization when we report a story like that our policy is to mention in the story that there was a minder there. but i'm wondering if you can talk about what you're anticipating. >> i'm anticipating that to increase and some of the agencies -- particularly anything where i think it really was prevalent was anything where science was involved. you know, the climate change people and the health care people and they got really sophisticated in the way they were sitting on you guys.
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i would anticipate this going to a lot more innocuous interviews. things that were so unbelievably routine in the past that they're going to try to pull something and i think your solution was a good one. every time they do it, say we were not able to talk to the number one guy in the world on climate change without having a public relations person there vetting everything he said. >> or just staring him down. >> just staring him down. you know, when asked this question, so and so was glared at by the public relations -- i think we have to do more of that. it's more -- particularly in these days when, you know, let's face it, fake news and all of that, we have to do more explaining about our process because the one


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